Nick Saban

Predictions 101 — Week 14

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Last week, we went 5-2 straight and versus “the number,” nailing the three biggies at the top of the list.

Let’s see how we do with the regular season’s final set, which is dripping with BCS implications.

TOP 5 GAMES OF THE WEEK (Thurs., Nov. 29, thru Sat., Dec. 1)

1) No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 3 Georgia in SEC title game at Atlanta
Sat., Dec. 1 — 4 p.m. ET, CBS

This SEC championship game doubles as a national semifinal, but in our mind it’s also for all the marbles. Either the Crimson Tide or Bulldogs will earn the honor of winning the SEC’s seventh consecutive BCS championship with a victory over No. 1 Notre Dame in Miami on Jan. 7.

While quick to jump to the conclusion above, we’re slow to adopt the prevailing opinion that Alabama will beat Georgia.

If we had the choice, we’d take the Bulldog defense over the Tide’s. Georgia linebackers Jarvis Jones and Alec Ogletree are as good as it gets at their respective positions, and they’re just the beginning.

Despite the rock steady quarterbacking of junior A.J. McCarron, the Alabama offense will experience its share of three-and-outs.

When the Bulldogs have the football, the same can be said. The big question revolves around how Georgia triggerman Aaron Murray rises to the occasion.

Against the two toughest teams he’s played this season, Murray struggled. In the Dawgs’ lone loss, a 35-7 debacle at South Carolina on Oct. 6, he was just 11-of-31 for 109 yards with an interception. Although Georgia beat Florida, 17-9, three weeks later to earn this trip to Atlanta, Murray wasn’t the reason. In fact, the Bulldogs won in spite of the three INTs he threw during a 12-of-25 performance that yielded 150 yards and a touchdown pass.

Murray hasn’t been picked off in any of the four games since the Cocktail Party, but the fact that four of his seven interceptions this season came against the only two teams that are even remotely capable of playing defense at Alabama’s level is worrisome.

Murray, who also hasn’t been able to get Georgia over the hump in its past two bowl games, is trying something new this week. He imposed his own personal media blackout, presumably to restrict questions about not being a big-game quarterback from affecting his performance.

We don’t look at that as a good sign and it tipped the scales.

Opening point spread: Alabama by 7 1/2

The pick: Alabama 23-20

2) No. 14 Nebraska vs. Wisconsin in Big Ten title game at Indianapolis
Sat., Dec. 1 — 8:17 p.m. ET, FOX

The Badgers haven’t had the season they expected, losing five regular-season games and going .500 in league play. But they aren’t about to conclude that this just isn’t their year and roll over for the Cornhuskers.

It’s quite the opposite actually. This is Wisconsin’s second chance, a holiday gift like no other.

If they play their cards right, the Badgers are potentially 120 minutes of football away from being crowned Rose Bowl champions. (No Oregon in Pasadena … just Stanford or UCLA!)

Remember that Wisconsin gave Nebraska all it could handle in Lincoln on Sept. 29. The Badgers appeared headed to victory after taking a 27-10 lead in the third quarter, but the Huskers scored 20 answered points on four consecutive drives.

Wisconsin had a chance to win the game in the final minutes, but tailback Montee Ball fumbled on a fourth-and-one, allowing the Cornhuskers to run out the clock.

Ball ran for 90 yards and three touchdowns on 32 carries. But in the end, his team netted only 56 rushing yards.

Nebraska had far less difficulty, rumbling for 259 yards on the ground.

That’ll even out a bit in the rematch and the game will go down to the wire. Something tells us the Badgers will go for a two-point conversion or take some chances in the fourth quarter to avoid overtime, which has been a 0-3 proposition for them this season.

Opening point spread: Nebraska by 2 1/2

The pick: Nebraska 24-23

3) No. 17 UCLA at No. 8 Stanford in Pac-12 title game
Fri., Nov. 30 — 8 p.m. ET, FOX

This prediction comes courtesy of Shane Hedani from the P101 satellite office in Maunawili, Hawai‘i.

After winning Round 1, which determined that there would be a rematch with Oregon watching on TV, Cardinal head coach David Shaw said: “I expect them to give us everything. I expect this to be a very tough, physical game. It’s going to be 10 times harder. We’re going to get their best shot.”

We share that belief. After exchanging opening drive touchdowns and holding Stanford to a trio of three-and-outs, UCLA head coach Jim Mora clearly called off the dogs.

Following the 35-17 Cardinal victory, an ornery L.A Times columnist asked Mora if he treated the contest like an NFL preseason charade in order to avoid playing Oregon and hide game plan elements from Stanford. The exchange was supremely entertaining.

After the first-quarter stalemate, who could blame Mora for going vanilla against a team that’s clearly a far easier matchup than the Ducks? Why not avoid Eugene as if the plague had broken out there? Palo Alto is beautiful this time of year.

Check how many times Mora had Jonathan Franklin run the ball on first down. The predictable play calling was designed to finish the game, not win it.

Round 2 will be a back-and-forth affair that will surprise many. In the end, Mora’s gamesmanship will come up short in a tight contest. A final clock-killing drive, showing what Stanford is made of, will seal it.

Opening point spread: Stanford by 10

The pick: Stanford 34-27

4) No. 13 Florida State vs. Georgia Tech in ACC title game at Charlotte, N.C.
Sat., Dec. 1 — 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

Both teams are busy licking their wounds on the way to this ACC Championship Game.

The Seminoles saw their faint BCS title hope go up in flames in a 37-26 loss to Florida last Saturday, while the Yellow Jackets were brushed aside, 42-10, by Georgia on its way toward a possible BCS title game appearance.

The difference in this contest is that Florida State’s defense has the ability to bounce back from its leaky outing. Georgia Tech’s problems on that side of the ball figure to persist.

That’s not to say that the Seminoles will shut down the Yellow Jacket option attack, after allowing the Gators to roam for 240 yards on the ground, but even with the loss of defensive end Tank Carradine to a knee injury, they clearly have the athletes to keep it in check.

Look for E.J. Manuel and the rest of the FSU offense to spring a bunch of big plays to easily claim a spot in the Orange Bowl (against … see below).

Opening point spread: Florida State by 13

The pick: Florida State 37-20

5) Louisville at Rutgers
Thurs., Nov. 29 — 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

The Cardinals are ticketed for the ACC and the Scarlet Knights are bound for the Big Ten, but we’re still talking about the Big East here, so this predicting business is unquestionably an effort in futility.

Nevertheless, there’s important stuff going on in Piscataway. If the Scarlet Knights win, they play in their first BCS game. If the Cardinals are victorious, they’ll likely get the Orange Bowl nod.

Cardinal quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will play with a broken left wrist. The Louisville running game is equally banged up with running back Senorise Perry on the shelf (ACL). In its last two games, Louisville has rushed for a total of only 75 yards.

All of that doesn’t add up to success versus Rutgers, which is allowing only 13.7 points per game.

Opening point spread: Rutgers by 2

The pick: Rutgers 26-17

Derwin James, FSU’s freshman All-American LB, undergoes ‘minor’ foot surgery

GAINESVILLE, FL - NOVEMBER 28:  Kelvin Taylor #21 of the Florida Gators attempts to run past Derwin James #3 of the Florida State Seminoles during the game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Gainesville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
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With rumors swirling around one of the top young defensive playmakers on Florida State’s roster, there’s some relatively positive news to report on that front.

Warchant.com reported that Derwin James did indeed undergo surgery on his foot two weeks ago to repair what was described as a small fracture.  The good news is that the procedure is described as being “minor” in nature.  Even better?  The timeline for a return of 4-5 weeks.

From the Rivals.com website:

With the start of football practice scheduled for August 9, which is right at four weeks following surgery, the Noles’ second-leading tackler from 2015 is expected to be able to participate. And he should be 100 percent recovered with no limitations in time for the second week of practice.

James was the most heralded member of FSU’s 2015 recruiting class, a five-star prospect rated as the No. 5 player overall on 247Sports.com’s composite board.  And, suffice to say, James lived up to the plaudits.

As a true freshman, James’ 91 tackles were second only to Reggie Northrup’s 94.  He was also second on the team in tackles for loss (9.5) and sacks (4.5).

For that, he was named a freshman All-American and third-team All-ACC.  This offseason, he was named to the Bednarik Award, Nagurski Trophy and Thorpe Award watch lists.

Family of LSU kicker injured in crash that killed Neb., MSU punters ‘sincerely appreciates outpouring of support’

BATON ROUGE, LA - NOVEMBER 08: Colby Delahoussaye #42 of the LSU Tigers kicks a field goal in the fourth quarter against the Alabama Crimson Tide during a game at Tiger Stadium on November 8, 2014 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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A statement from Colby Delahoussaye expressed thanks for all of the thoughts and prayers he had received since the weekend.  Friday, his family expressed a similar sentiment.

On their way home from a kicking camp Saturday night, Cornhuskers punter Sam Foltz and ex-Spartans punter Mike Sadler were killed in a car accident as they were driving through a severe thunderstorm in Wisconsin.  Additionally, LSU placekicker Colby Delahoussaye, a backseat passenger in the Mercedes driven by Sadler, was injured in the crash that claimed the players’ lives.

In a statement, the Delahoussaye family said it “sincerely appreciates the outpouring of support for Colby since the accident” while also reminding people to “continue to pray for the families of Mike Sadler and Sam Foltz during this very difficult time.”

Our family sincerely appreciates the outpouring of support for Colby since the accident last weekend. The number of calls, emails and text messages that we have received from people throughout the country has been overwhelming and much appreciated. Colby is in good hands with treatment to his injuries and he’s making progress with his recovery.

“We ask that you continue to pray for the families of Mike Sadler and Sam Foltz during this very difficult time. Mike and Sam were wonderful young men who Colby had great admiration for. Please keep their families in your thoughts and prayers.

Delahoussaye sustained burns to his legs and lacerations that required stitches, but it’s the former injury that’s being credited with saving his life.

“All he remembers is that the fire was burning his leg and that woke him up,” Dwayne Delahoussaye, told the Baton Rouge Advocate. “He was knocked unconscious. The burning sensation revived him. That’s all he remembers. He doesn’t even know how he got out. He doesn’t know where he crawled out of.”

In 2013 and 2014, Delahoussaye, a senior walk-on with the Tigers, converted on a combined 24-of-29 field goal attempts.  He was replaced last season by Trey Domingue, who announced earlier this month that he was transferring from LSU after his scholarship wasn’t renewed before confirming this weekend that he’ll be continuing his collegiate playing career at Texas.

It’s unknown if Delahoussaye, expected to be the Tigers’ primary placekicker this season, will be healthy enough to participate in the start of summer camp, which kicks off early next month.

Suspended A&M assistant Jim Turner no stranger to controversy

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - NOVEMBER 17:  Offensive line coach, Jim Turner, of the Miami Dolphins coaches his players before their game against the San Diego Chargers at Sun Life Stadium on November 17, 2013 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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When it comes to being offensive, Jim Turner seems to have all of the bases covered.

Turner was one of two Texas A&M assistant coaches suspended two weeks without pay by head coach Kevin Sumlin Friday for a train wreck of a presentation at a women’s football clinic.  Photos leaked to various media outlets showed a slide show with various “pass-blocking rules” that included such helpful tips as “spread your legs,” “enter-front/not-behind, “get erect,” “stay erect” and “bang him hard.”

Turner came to the Aggies after a two-year stint with the Miami Dolphins.  Turner was fired by the NFL club after getting swept up in the maelstrom that was the Dolphins’ bullying and harassment scandal.  Turner subsequently filed a lawsuit claiming “his reputation and career have been unfairly affected” by the reports commissioned by the NFL.

One particular portion of the report has been making its way around the Internet, and it casts and more negative light on the current situation involving Turner.

Turner was aware of the running “joke” that Player A was gay, and on at least one occasion, he participated in the taunting. Around Christmas 2012, Coach Turner gave the offensive linemen gift bags that included a variety of stocking stuffers. The gifts included inflatable female dolls for all of the offensive linemen except Player A, who received a male “blow-up” doll. [Jonathan] Martin and another player reported that they were surprised Coach Turner did this; Martin further said that he was offended that Turner had endorsed the humiliating treatment of Player A by participating in it. Incognito and others agreed that this incident with Coach Turner occurred. When interviewed, Turner was asked if he gave Player A a male blow-up doll. He replied, “I can’t remember.”

“We want to sincerely apologize to the passionate Aggie fans and to women everywhere for our failed attempt at humor during this week’s Aggie Football Chalk Talk and fundraiser,” a statement from Turner and the other suspended assistant, special teams coordinator/tight ends coach Jeff Banks, began. “We clearly understand now that our comments and slides were not appropriate or consistent with the values of our football program or our Department. We must do better, and we will.”

Ex-A&M All-American Antonio Armstrong, wife shot and killed, 16-year-old son charged with murder

Antonio Armstrong
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Sadly, tragedy has hit the Texas A&M football program in one of the most gut-punching, heartbreaking ways imaginable.

Early Friday morning, Houston police were called to the home of Antonio Armstrong to investigate a shooting.  At the Bellaire-area home, police found Armstrong’s wife, Dawn, dead and Armstrong critically wounded with a gunshot wound to the head in their bed.

Armstrong was taken to a local hospital and was initially listed in critical condition before succumbing to the injuries later on Friday.

Adding to the tragedy, police have charged the Armstrong’s 16-year-old son with two counts of juvenile murder.  The daughter of Antonio and Dawn was in the home at the time of the shooting, but she was not injured.  A third child was not believed to be in the home.

Homicide investigators have said there was no history of domestic violence, and police had never been called to the home.

Armstrong, who went by the surname “Shorter” for the first three years of his Aggie football career, played at A&M from 1991-94, earning first-team All-American honors his senior season.  He was also a semifinalist for the Butkus Award that year, and was named All-SWC twice.

“Antonio was a special young man,” Armstrong former head coach, R.C. Slocum, said in a statement. “He was an All-American and an outstanding player, but he was an even better person. He was such a positive influence on his teammates. He always had a great big smile and was a joy to coach.”

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Antonio Armstrong and his family and the entire Aggie family,” a statement from current A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin began. “Our strength coach Larry Jackson was a teammate of Antonio’s and thought the world of him.

“This is a terrible tragedy and our hearts are broken.”

After injuries ended his pro career after a few seasons, Armstrong went on to become a fitness instructor, motivational speaker and associate pastor.  He and his wife ran First Class Training, a gym in Bellaire.

Below is Armstrong’s A&M bio provided by the school:

Was a cornerstone of the Texas A&M Wrecking Crew defense for four seasons from 1991-94 … Earned first-team Associated Press All-America honors as a linebacker as a senior in 1994 and was a semifinalist for the Butkus Award, which is given annually to college football’s top linebacker … earned first-team All-Southwest Conference honors in 1993 and 1994 … Earned Defensive Player of the Game honors in the 1994 Cotton Bowl (vs. Notre Dame) … was drafted in the sixth round of the NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers in 1995 … Armstrong never lost a game on Kyle Field and helped the Aggies extend the nation’s then-longest home winning streak to 26 games … Armstrong led the SWC in QB sacks and tackles for losses as a senior in 1994 … finished his career with 154 total tackles, including 18 QB sacks and 31 total tackles for loss of yardage.